The Ounce’s Nick Wechsler honored with Home Visiting Leadership Award
The Ounce has long believed that a child’s first and most important teacher is their parent. That is why we have been an early champion of recognizing home visiting as a key component of early childhood systems of care and education.
Our very own Nick Wechsler, director for program development at the Ounce, has been influencing the home visiting field in Illinois for 30 years and was recently honored as the recipient of the Home Visiting Leadership Award at the Annual Prevent Child Abuse Illinois Statewide Conference.
A passion for building relationships
Nick, who holds a master’s degree in Infant Studies, started his career in the early 1970s, working as a community mental health worker in Chicago, providing therapy to communities in need under the supervision of licensed clinicians. Nick credits his experiences as a stay-at-home dad and as a family day care provider for preparing him for what ultimately became the Ounce’s home visiting approach: relationship-based work.
Home Visiting – Helping parents through a life-changing transition
Nick’s personal and professional experiences with new parenthood ultimately showed him that home visiting services can considerably support both children and parents.
The days and weeks following the birth of a child can be a time of great joy and excitement for all parents. Developmental science tells us that these first interactions between parents and newborns lay the foundation for a child’s healthy development in school and life. This can also can be a time of extreme stress for parents, exacerbated by exhaustion during a period of physical, hormonal and emotional vulnerability.
Home visitors can provide much-needed support to help ease new parents’ anxieties and provide them with the tools and knowledge to develop the secure attachments that allow children to thrive. By helping parents engage in meaningful play and learning interactions with their children, home visitors influence the development of nurturing relationships that support a child’s ability to grow and learn.
Home Visiting – The early years
Today, early childhood home visiting is an established part of national policy and is a publicly subsidized practice here in the U.S. and in many countries around the globe. But it wasn’t always so, Nick reminds us.
Public policy and subsidized center-based care for very young children was limited until 1995, when Early Head Start (EHS) was established. EHS extended home visiting into the Head Start model and added group care as an option for children from birth to age 3.
In the early years, Nick says, childcare professionals didn’t have what we now know as evidence-based models for home visiting. In the 1990s, home visitors drew on the theories of emerging brain science to inform what simply made good sense in supporting parenting: that a child’s early experiences and secure attachments with parents and caregivers lay the emotional, social and cognitive foundation for healthy development and learning.
Championing Home Visiting in Illinois and beyond
“When I started working at the Ounce,” Nick remembers, “we were primarily focused on providing home visiting to teenage parents. In fact, we were the only publicly-funded statewide network for home visiting.”
Throughout his first decade at the Ounce, Nick trained and supported home visitors, helping them expand their base of knowledge and enhance skills and practice. He credits this early period for laying the foundation for the Ounce’s own approach to home visiting. As early pioneers in the field, the Ounce ultimately became a leader in innovating service approaches and advocating for better access to home visiting across Illinois.
The landscape is much different today – home visiting has become more professionalized and is evaluated with the highest level of scientific rigor. The federal government has created guidelines and funds home visiting services through Early Head Start programs. New legislation made possible by the 2010 Affordable Care Act allowed for $351 million to be appropriated annually to support approximately 150,000 parents and children through almost 1 million home visits a year as part of the federal government’s Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) programs.
Reaching more children and families
Over the last three decades, the scope of the Ounce’s home visiting work has expanded, and Nick’s work has been key to this development. Under his purview, work that was limited to teenage parents at the beginning has grown in its depth and breadth.
The Ounce designs, delivers, trains and supports home visitors who work in underserved communities, including home visiting for mothers experiencing homelessness, as well as those in the criminal justice system. Nick and the Ounce have also been working with state advocates and local communities to establish a new approach to this work – universal newborn supportive services – which offers all parents home visiting in the first weeks after birth.
“Nick’s work speaks for itself. But, it is his passionate advocacy for stronger parent-child relationships, as well as his own character, that leaves a legacy in the field,” Kelly Woodlock, the Ounce’s vice president of national home visiting, says. “Nick has dedicated years of professional service to support and promote healthy interactions between babies and the people in their lives they count on most to nurture, teach, love and protect them. He exudes a reflective mindset that has shaped many of us as professionals, and he is a trusted and highly valued thought partner, mentor and colleague.”
The Ounce congratulates Nick for this great recognition and we thank him for his commitment to serving children and families!
“The recognition is a bit awkward, yet it also fills me with great gratification and joy. It truly makes my career’s work visible. Knowing that ideas and labor that came from within me have become useful tools for home visitors, that my creations reach into homes and become meaningful in the lives of children and parents during home visits throughout Illinois – this is a personal and professional treasure.”
– Nick Wechsler, director for program development at the Ounce